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Parties at Moose Lodge have Lawrenceville complaining

| Friday, March 28, 2014, 9:57 p.m.

A sign above a mural on the side of the Moose Lodge in Lawrenceville advertises it as a “family center,” and its mission statement emphasizes community service.

But Pittsburgh police, firefighters and building inspectors said that last week they found scantily clad women dancing around a pole, money littering the floor and the smell of burned marijuana.

“What they're doing in the eyes of the law is minor, but it's more quality-of-life issues,” said Detective John McBurney of the city's nuisance bar task force. “The neighbors are calling and complaining.”

Police found videos on YouTube claiming to be from Lawrenceville Moose events that show women in little clothing dancing around and on a pole as music blares and men throw cash.

Lodge treasurer and bar manager Paul Kelly said he was there when police, fire and building inspectors conducted a compliance check early in the morning on March 21. He said a member regularly rents the upper floor of the lodge for parties on Thursday nights.

The member, Edward Azeem, a member of the Moose for nearly two years, said he hires security for his “Thirsty Thursday” parties, keeps the music down and makes sure everyone is out by 2:15 a.m.

“I'm not understanding where the complaints are coming from,” Azeem said. “It's starting to get really annoying. We don't bother nobody.”

Said Kelly, “The pole is pretty much always there on Thursdays, but I've never seen anybody naked on it and I've never smelled marijuana. I've seen a bunch of people dancing, but there's no illegal activity that I've seen.”

Lawrenceville United Executive Director Lauren Byrne said she received at least 50 complaints about loud noise, disorderly conduct and people coming and going late at night at the lodge during the past six months. She said the trouble began in early 2012.

“The Moose has a great history here, just not in the past three years,” Byrne said. “As a neighborhood organization, the first thing we try to do is work with the business. They continued to tell us we're crazy, and we're targeting them. But these complaints are founded. These things are going on.”

Lawrenceville United received an invitation to a Feb. 9 Moose Lodge event called “Hustlers Holiday,” advertising $3 shots and exotic dancers, Byrne said.

“It doesn't seem like they've been honest with us,” Byrne said. “I don't think they should be operating at this point.”

Kelly said when he learned of that event, he canceled it, and he stopped hosting underage birthday parties and battle of the bands events. The lodge holds an Easter party for kids and brunches with Santa Claus as part of its family-friendly events, Kelly said. He said the Thursday night parties are attended by mostly black residents, and wondered whether there is a racial element to the complaints.

Public Safety Director Mike Huss said that is “simply untrue.”

“Establishments should expect that we will periodically use the resources of fire, BBI (Bureau of Building Inspection) and police as a tool to make sure that they are following building codes,” Huss said.

“It's borderline harassment,” said Kelly, who is white. “We did away with everything detrimental that Lawrenceville United asked.”

The parties help the lodge pay its bills, Kelly said. First Commonwealth Bank on March 17 filed a mortgage foreclosure complaint claiming the lodge owes more than $70,000.

McBurney said the lodge is on his radar and he met with the regional manager, Stan Adams. Adams referred comment to Moose International, where a spokesman declined comment.

After the compliance check, BBI sent a letter to lodge leaders warning them of fire and zoning code violations, acting Chief Maura Kennedy said. The lodge has seven days to fix the problems, and Kennedy said inspectors will check again on Monday. She said the building is zoned as a lodge and club, but “it was being used as a nightclub, burlesque establishment, which is not appropriate under its current zoning class.”

Kelly said the problems have been fixed and he's working to soundproof a wall to reduce the noise that neighbors on nearby Hatfield Street hear.

“The biggest complaint everybody has is the noise,” Kelly said.

Margaret Harding is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media . She can be contacted at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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